Tuesday, December 15, 2015
“STRETCH” TENDS TO IMPLY “push,” and “release” tends to imply “let go.” “Stretch” could reference release, but what is commonly observed is pushing. Muscles seem restricted, and so the task becomes stretching to make them less restricted. But with a “push” orientation, that which becomes restricted for most people is engagement in a process to reduce general “stiffness.”
We habituate muscles and ligaments to limited positions for most of the day. Then nerves “tell” muscles that this is their safe range, and they fire registering discomfort when we exceed this habituated range. This resistance is their adaptive or functional role to keep tissue from either being injured or decreasing its elasticity.
If we want a “new normal” that helps with both functionality in everyday life and a body that does not impede mind, we need to be more realistic about what we are trying to do. We need to let go more than push, because the task is not to “push” or stretch tissue, but rather “let go” or release nerves to then release muscles and fascia to a fuller normal range. The “new normal” does not involve making tissue such as muscle and ligaments longer. These tissues are attached at fixed points in the bone so the entire muscle complex cannot get longer. Quadriceps femoris in the upper leg and soleus beneath the achilles tendon tighten so that heels cannot reach the mat and squats are no longer comfortable. But in Asia, where the norm has been a habitual squat, squats can be comfortable. For many in Asia, the tissue is not hyper-extended; it is at full normal range.
First, what must change is nerves. Nerves must be retrained to fire less at deeper levels of poses—“stretch tolerance.” Gently holding easy positions and then gradually extending muscles and fascia and following the body rather than pushing/controlling allows nerves to gradually tolerate the change to a “new normal.”
And second we need to be persistent or “repeat” poses. Practice does not make muscles and fascia permanently longer. The habituated positions win out across the long run. To relax nerves and to enjoy this process, we need to release more than push—“frequency more than intensity,” “no pain—gain.”
Not working with muscle and fascia results in habitual limited positions that we all know too well. Shoulders get “stiff” and even painful, and do not lift high overhead or bend sideways. However, if we habitually “push,” we may also promote an often overlooked dysfunction. If we push muscles/fascia rather than relax nerves, we can get stronger response for things like sports performance (i.e., jump higher or get speed bursts), but we are also likely to tighten rather than release muscles, and across time this can feel like injury because it can be so limiting. And if we push to extend muscles and fascia, we can chronically irritate areas or even reduce the elasticity of the tissue (reducing its ability to contract effectively when needed).
Restorative yoga can be an important core practice for a “new normal” that can then be extended into more active poses. It flips the switch from push to let go, from control to follow, from fast to slow.
The poses are not really “passive.” As a person relaxes, spindles [micro nerves in tissue] release and the tissue extends (or as Vanda Scaravelli suggests, allowing the pose to come to you). And spending time in a pose, a person can also gently flow back and forth in a cycle of gentle extension and retraction.
Release can be experienced as “mental release” as well. First, this sense of mental release rather than push is pleasurable, and this can draw a person to this practice so that the frequency of practice is increased as well as the length of time spent in each practice session. Second, this calming and quieting in mental release has both optimizing holistic physiological effects that may be more important cross the long run than reducing stiffness as well as transforming imagination from chatter to intuition and insight. The “workout” or “exercise” becomes a deeper body-mind-spirit practice.
Overall, the strategy emphasizes the growing realization that tissue doesn’t change, nerves change.
And most important, what was not enjoyable becomes pleasurable.
“Relaxing nerves” becomes synonymous with release. And terms such as “slow-cooking,” gently hanging out in poses, slow stretching, following, flowing and pushing in cycles of extension and retraction, spindle release, frequency more than intensity, no pain—gain, and stretch tolerance become terms that form a practice of releasing.
Wednesday, September 9, 2015
WE IMAGINE RELAXING muscles and fascia, but relaxing releases nerve responses, that then relax muscle and fascia. The first act—the “egg”—might be the nerves, and the “chicken”—second, the muscles and fascia.
When we push muscles and ligaments, emphasizing strength, balance or quick transitions, it is difficult to imagine how we do not excite nerves rather than relax nerves (as well as provoke other agitated chemistry that comes to us mentally and in lessened sport performance in a burn of lactic acid buildup).
Pushing muscles and ligaments does have an effect. It is the core of the physicality of much of the 20th Century yoga out of India into the West. But as yoga poses mature with a strong nod to “flexibility” (really, still a “fitness” term), perhaps a revolutionary leap out of a fitness mindset shift to, perhaps, a “suppleness” mindset that attends not only to muscles and ligaments, but also to the fascial structure of muscles, ligaments, sheets of fascia, organs and on-and-on ad infinitum.
Having been “physical” most of my life, there are other approaches worth consideration, involving, for example, a new language of “wellness,” (that is still quite heavily laden with “fitness” strategies) and then, “optimal health/thriving” that is still in an embryonic state and in need of new terminology.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, not pushing muscles and fascia, but rather, trying to do the opposite. Under anesthesia, muscles and ligaments are experienced to become pliant/flexible to the point of bones being capable of dislocation. It’s not the muscle and ligament action that is doing this. It is the nerve channels. The nerves in anesthesia are, metaphorically speaking, “turned either down or off.”
We can use this fact in deep stretching. Rather than “push to an edge to drive out pain (“no pain, no gain”), we might just relax and “stretch” (inducing no pain, gain). Rather than exciting nerves to the point of discomfort, we might use whatever we have to use [blocks, blankets, pillows, bolsters] to support and open to then follow the release of spindles—micro-coils of nerve tissue in muscles and (under another name) in fascia.
Something new here: “spindles,” and how they operate.
And then, given spindles, something new here because of how spindles function:
Our focus on muscles and ligaments and sheets of fascia that we push to stretch might dramatically shift to something new—to a focus on nerves as the real interface.
In shifting the focus to nerves, we might aspire to relax them rather than excite and agitate them.
Go to any gym in the world, and note how little time is spent stretching. In the hyper-flexibility gyms of acrobatics especially in rigid nation-states, find workouts next to torture (usually of the most flexible youth, which they endure to basically survive). Many people are engaged in “yoga,” but many more are turned away after their first session by a fitness strategy that suggests to them that when in pain, keep going and it will eventually go away.
For the average person, stretching takes them back to gym class where stretching was the key agony of gym class. “Stretching” back then and still now means hurting until you decide to quit, and it is far less enjoyable than the hardest physical workout.
But what if you could do some aerobics for “cardio” somewhere in the plan, and then spend some real time, not minutes, stretching WITH THE SENSE THAT THIS TIME WOULD BE ENJOYABLE? In this process, THE STRETCH MIGHT BE GRADUAL. And this process would REQUIRE that the pose be comfortable/enjoyable. And for purpose? To calm the nerves to promote the release of spindles. And what is the purpose of that?
Without analyzing an outcome, stretching for a time would naturally “deepen,” which is to say, the pose would continue to change, wherein the body “softens” rather than tenses. Such a pose would occur across a small span of time or “come to us” across a small span of time (after Vanda Scaravelli) rather than be something static that we assume and hold.
So perhaps, not muscles or ligaments, but nerves, …and relax.
See additional posts in Islands Of Grace:
Holding Poses & Spindle Release 2/18/12
Releasing Vs. Conditioning 6/9/15
Allow The Pose To Come To You 12/3/13
Aruksita Yoga—The Supple Body 11/27/13
Slow Cookin’ 6/6/13
Stretch & Relax 10/2/12
Friday, June 12, 2015
I have 4 tapes of sessions, but only available on something like flash drive as it is too much for a CD or email.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
Restorative yoga can be primarily about “release” as a core directive.
The most widespread contemporary, popular yoga that fills the room can be more about “conditioning” as a core directive.
Most participants of mainstream yoga seek and enjoy conditioning qualities. Slow down a lot and folks are likely to get up and walk out of the practice, angry. Popular yoga is typically associated with fitness, which seems to be an obvious reason for doing yoga, with “yoga fitness” being more oriented toward flexibility and mental challenge that is intriguing. If new to popular yoga, one is likely to be sore the next day due to being “out of condition”—revealing the condition aspect.
If one is new to restorative yoga, one is likely to not be sore the next day.
When closest to its essence or “heart practice,” restorative yoga is release. Every acion is quiet, calm, eased, relaxed. Slow flowing body actions amplify relaxation. Desensitization (through perhaps lowered light, supports, blankets, fragrance and soft music) amplifies relaxation. Physiologically, that which relaxes is the nervous system in body tissue—organs, vessels, ligaments and muscles. Physiologically, restorative yoga can relax nerves that are the primary controllers of muscles and ligaments. Nerves control the degree of relaxation as is demonstrated in anesthesia where surgeons need to be careful not to dislocate joints due to markedly increased muscle flex with nerves “turned off.”
For most, the controlled stress on body and mind is the main point. To release stress, the focus becomes short-term stress. The release of stress is irrelevant and experiences that the end of practice. For most, the “lazed, everyday modern body” needs the stress and short-term stress is good. And it is good in many ways. Working one’s ass off is very good for many things. Perhaps with ass-working, one can even accomplish “scorpion” or perhaps “firefly” or “Marichyasana IV” or a raging back bend. Not a bad thing, really, fee or free, but not “releasing.”
Restorative yoga can offer a heart-yoga practice, or, perhaps, not “yoga” at all.
At any rate, there is a particular philosophy of care in “Restorative,” that can be expanded to all asanas, so that all asanas can become “islands of grace” (as in “soft power yoga, described elsewhere in previous Islands Of Grace blog posts).
Here the philosophy of care is grounded in “kindness yoga”—yoga metta—and Vanda Scaravelli’s notions of freeing the body, following the poses, no system, listening, body awareness of especially that body part that is taut or “lit-up,” etc. …
Again, why “releasing”?
My query into the idea of releasing came from just a few secondary words mentioned by a N. California yoga teacher at a place on Point Reyes called Commonweal [featured on Bill Moyer’s Healing & The Mind many years past] who said that it was central to yoga. For a few years, no yoga teacher seemed to have a clue what I was asking about. Then there was the mention of the possibility of touching it in “restorative yoga” and/or in “yin yoga.” I think I was drawn to this idea due to more than half a century now of practicing martial “aiki” that seemed to have most of the “releasing ideas” as their deepest practice.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
IN A PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK, Annie Dillard writes,
The gaps are the thing. The gaps are the spirit’s one home, the altitudes
and latitudes so dazzling spare and clean that the spirit can discover
itself for the first time like a once-blind man unbound.
In body-mind practices, one crosses a threshold from the everyday into a different order. There is a combination of an asceticism of a discipline as well as affection for the practice that can transport the participant out of the ordinary. The world is the same one, but the view is deeper, inseparable.
In studios, dojos and dojangs, in kivas and temples, and in small rooms and wild, unbuilt spaces, there is the possibility for something transcendent and enduring and timeless.
Body-mind practices have likely endured because they can offer an accessible “gap” in the world, so that the gap doesn’t have to be far off. We tend to make “far off” and “special,” and tend to miss the richness that is present without taking one step. Stepping through the doorway, it can be as if one has slipped inside a gap in the everyday. The space can be sacral rather than mundane.
There might be a deeper sense of one’s authenticity—inclusive, even inseparable, and a letting go—dis-identification, and observation more than control, where ego might be set aside and inside/outside soften. Sameness and difference fade. Thought and action aspire to coming into harmony or balance.
There is calmness inherent not only in moments of physically slowing and stilling but also in a return to the reliability of repetitive actions. By returns, actions might be followed, perhaps becoming graced even if not athletically graceful, and implicitly meaningful without needing to offer explicit meaning.
AT THE SAME time, this quality that Annie Dillard writes of may be largely absent in body-mind practices. Across time, body-mind practices vacillate between the practical and the spiritual, and reformation efforts arise to take them by varying degrees one way or the other. Contemporary practices termed “yoga” are resplendent with a broad continuum of approaches.
We tend to become our words. The core language of approaches may be quite different. Effort might be directed toward strengthening ego rather than softening ego—“knowing oneself” by pushing physical limits and overcoming weakness to go “deeper inside.” There may be no sense of gap in the everyday to be found. Rather than stepping out fo the everyday, the real task might be identified as intensifying the everyday to extract the very best from it. Everyday “work” might carry forward into a “workout.”
Friday, March 20, 2015
Indonesian and Asian Indian Batiks
DO WE NEED A blanket or blankets or a scarf in yoga or meditation? No, but...
a heavy “therapeutic blanket” may be used with autism and ADHD as a way to reduce the amount of environmental stimulation. Any blanket offers a reduction of stimuli, can comfort or swaddle, or offer a sense of enclosure and the qualities of refuge and retreat. A blanket can reducing the ouchiness of bony parts on hard surfaces, as well as go much further to intentionally amplify relaxation by, for example, placing arms outspread on floor on blankets. Like blocks and bolsters, blankets can facilitate stretching as the body relaxes rather than holds back or resists for any level of practice and not just when a person “can’t do a pose.” They can aid transition from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system. Beyond facilitating deeper stretching, blankets are helpful where a person aspires to attend more to body-mind.
Mexican blankets are typical blankets in yoga, but other blankets offer different qualities: soft blankets and firm “army blankets,” large blankets and small (offering a wedge, perhaps as support for under the thigh or under an arm or cervical curve on neck).
Various types of materials create various types of experience: a Mexican blanket—course and firm, pashmina—very silky soft cashmere, fleece, hand-sewn quilts with both comfort and perhaps family heritage associations, thin colorful batik introducing and incorporating art, …
Colors and textures are instructive. One may be drawn to a specific color such as turquoise or teal or to a specific texture.
Blankets and wraps can alter a “workout mindset.” They are useful in more active practice to pad knees and shoulders, but slowing down and doing more mat work, they can amplify relaxing and stretching.
There are also headscarves and arm warmers as well as compression clothing that offer a sense of containment. Scarves are approached as decorative and perhaps as comforting. And they might also offer a more intentional “spiritual” quality, similar to a "stole" worn by priests when saying their daily office or like a rakusu in Zen Buddhism—sort of ritually, very intentionally, bringing the sacred into practice.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
YOGA IS TRANSFORMATIONAL in all of its expressions. Centuries of variation aspired to transform to “rise above the suffering or existence” (especially when lifespan was typically shorter and basic subsistence required more than full-time effort) and/or to “yoke” or bind with the ineffable absolute or specific transcendent being(s). In India, this found expression in diverse religious and sectarian approaches such as the rich variety of Hinduism, Muslim and related Sufism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and broader pan-Indic movements such as Shaivism, and theologically-open sects, and even in militarized ascetic sects/orders.
As yoga became a part of established sects, yoga either became a motif or part of the sects’ rituals—secondary, and derivative and even degenerative where, in either case, was used to serve the objectives and goals of the sect.
Similarly, contemporary global yoga practices tend to not be that different, as evidenced by the great variety of “established” approaches and myriad individual systems. Some practices aspire to just be yoga, but there is always a directive.
Two aspects appear to be consistent. First, there is a dynamic in yoga that is transcultural that appeals to a variety of approaches, with many newer emphases such as health and therapy and even performance and competition/sport.
Second, there is a problematic dynamic that appears to be consistent. The problem arises with the vision of transformation. What is interesting is that the body-mind that one brings to yoga is already the consequence of conditioning by culture, everyday habit, injury/trauma. The body-mind tends to be approached as a “wreck,” with the yogic goal being one of trading the vaguer conditioning that has resulted from culture and life experience for a more specific “better” conditioning. Yoga is directed toward creating a conditioned body-mind to attain the goal of the specific approach/practice.
What if yoga was to aspire to step out of conditioning altogether?
There is another way to look at yoga and body-mind. Rather than use yoga to change body-mind, use body-mind to guide yoga. This involves approaching body-mind-as-it-is and allowing the wisdom/intelligence that has culminated naturally in the body-mind to emerge: natural body-mind.
With an orientation toward natural body-mind, calming and listening and following and freeing become truly transformative. There is trust in an inherent health that is evidenced in the complexity of body and mental awareness that is the consequence of billions of years of evolution.
How to make this shift?
Again, de-conditioning by physically stilling that then opens a general emotional response of calming, listening to stillness and to movement, and following breath. It is difficult to both listen and to allow the body physiology to offer direction when moving fast. Moving fast, you are onto something new before you “hear” or feel what might be present. Even in a group, there is a need for individual intuition rather than total uniformity.
The body-mind can be approached as a landscape to be discovered rather than as something to be directed.
In this sense, yoga goes back to its longstanding meditative aspect as primary. It is possible to just sit or lie or curl up or sway or shift posture and or breathe or just breathe.Body movement is slower and “poses” or asanas are “deep stretching” that is never fixed but rather continues to open or unfold. Practice can be “deep comprehensive stretching” so that movement is varied.
Rather than get increasingly specific on “how to de-condition body-mind,” perhaps the best place to begin might be to approach the yoga that one does (or any body-mind effort) as a form of conditioning rather than freeing, and begin to ask how body-mind might be more freeing or de-conditioning, and then slow and listen and see what appears. Rather than set an intention, invite something in and see what appears.
Monday, February 2, 2015
(See earlier post: “Connective Tissue” As The Locus for Restorative-Yin Yoga, 2/15/11. Also, see posts: Slow Cookin’, 6/6/13, Deep Comprehensive Stretching, 1/1/13, Stretch& Relax, 10/2/12,Holding Yoga Poses & Spindle Release, 2/18/12)
MOVE FAST and muscles stretch. Fascia [“Fah-shah”) is the last to stretch, and fascia stands to be stretched when held. Popularly, muscles are sensed to be that which moves and flexes with fascia sensed to be rather immovable. However, flow through yoga poses for a couple of months and then hold poses for a couple of months and see if you do not notice an increase in flexibility and suppleness.
Yoga is popularly approached as a fitness alternative—but essentially as a fitness “workout”—and we tend to deliver what participants can feel, and participants can feel muscles move. If new to yoga, muscles will likely burn the next day. However, if poses are held and allowed to gradually stretch, muscles will likely not burn the next day.
That which we do not feel, we tend to not even sense its presence. If we move and perhaps sweat, we feel that we are getting to that which we need to get to. And yet, what we need to affect to gain the most obvious physical goal of modern yoga participants is to stretch fascia.
Fascia is more than tendons and “gristle.” It is a web of living tissue found throughout the body. It coats muscle strands in three layers and is inside muscle tissue joining cells, and ultimately streams down into more recognizable ligaments at the end of large groups of muscle strands that attach muscle to bone. Gently leach an organ such as the heart of its muscle cells and find a ghost-like heart shape of fascia upon which contemporary biomedicine has now grown a new heart from stem cells.
Fascia is not rubber. While we may think of it at the white material in anatomy illustrations, it is living fibrous tissue., fascia is everywhere. Fascia is structural support/strength. It absorbs shock throughout the body. It contains pathogens in regions so that the immune system can rush to those regions. Full of nerve tissue, nerve communication is streamlined across the surface of fascia. (And perhaps because of this optimal nerve sensation flow, it might be strongly associated with complementary medical interventions such as acupuncture/acupressure and be a locus for understanding of “Eastern body structure”—such as “meridians”—from Western medical perspectives.0
One body-MIND aspect that may relate to fascia is the arena of trauma being held in the body physiology. [An interview with Tom Myers, “Creating Change: Tom Myers on Yoga, Fascia and Mind-Body Transformation,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eva-norlyk-smith-phd/mind-body-_b_4387093.html explores fascia and trauma work.] “Bodywork” such as Rolfing, the work of Wilhelm Reich, and Hakomi Therapy pay attention to the body in approaching emotional disorder. There is typically some physical manipulation that is sensed to be “deep.” It would be apparent to anyone that an experience defined as traumatic, especially chronic, is likely to be expressed somewhere in the body in chronic tension patterns. General stress is a milder form of this expression. Tom Myers suggests that fascia is ‘the final repository.” He states that Most of these emotions are going to start in your nervous system. They’re going to be exported to your muscles. And the pattern in your muscles is going to determine what the pattern in the fascia is. He posits that sustained stretch in yoga poses change the connective tissue. So poses that are sustained is the key. While it is great for physical health, exercise in the general sense—running or working out… . has less effect on the fascia, because it’s designed for the muscles, for the cardiovascular system or perhaps for neural recruitment, such as stability training. Myers stresses the necessity of giving the muscles a chance to slow down. The muscles have to relax first, and then the fascia starts to stretch and release. And that can facilitate the kind of repatterning that leads to lasting release of chronic holdings and, in many cases, a profound change of mind and body.
Another body-MIND aspect might involve fascia as the seat of “high-quality proprioception” (i.e., the ability to be consciously or subconsciously aware of where the localized parts of the body are.) We might “feel” our muscles, but the muscles operate rather isolated and Via fascial connections, muscles are linked into long functional chains, and really, it’s these larger myofascial chains that are responsible for your movement. [Jenni Rawlings, “Yoga Anatomy: What Every Teacher (and Practitioner) should Know About Fascia,” http://yogainternational.com/article/view/yoga-anatomy-“ what-every-teacher-and-practitioner-should-know-about-fascia, Feb 2, 2015] This high-quality proprioception is not just body awareness, but may be a physiological aspect of “inner vision” that opens not only body health but a reading of “integration.”
[Without much clarification, Rawlings suggests that varied movement rather than the repeated movement of “chaturangas” may strengthen fascial tissues whereas repetition may weaken fascia and make it more prone to injury.] But we might be asking ourselves, why 60-70 “down dogs” in a vinyasa session? Why not explore down dog variations and move on?]
Beyond attention to fascia, Why, Why, why we are not challenging this vinyasa flow sequence seems remarkable, and is a very, very good reason to challenge things like yoga registration? Why are we validating Y’s exploding yoga [like exploding judo in the 1960’s, now gone] and myriad yoga studios that aspire to seek more participants? Why are we not looking to deeper aspects, both straight-up fitness physiology that is correct, and, of course—that rarity—deeper mind-body-spirit dimensions?